Archive for the ‘Web Development’ Category

Last night, I attended the CFUG Belgium meeting, entitled the “CF11 Launch Party” (CFUG Belgium is the belgian ColdFusion User Group). We had two speakers. Rakshith Naresh is the ColdFusion product manager at Adobe; he spoke to us from India about the new features of ColdFusion 11. Technically, the situation wasn’t perfect, but all in all it was good to see that Adobe, or at least Rakshith, cares about CF developers in a small country like Belgium, and his overview was worth listening to.

The second speaker of the meeting was Alwyn Wymeersch, who explained the basics of AngularJS. I liked his approach of the presentation, with lots of demoes, and his courage, trying to do it all with live coding. Good job!

Click the logo to go to the CFUG website.

Click the logo
to go to the CFUG website.
Be warned, though:
this site isn’t up to date!

I look forward to testing our current apps on the latest version of CF, even though I won’t be using many of the recent novelties. I would love to try and develop a mobile app with CF11, but our mobile app users are colleagues on the move, using iPads and Galaxy Tabs to access company resources. Their mobile devices are under control of a ‘Mobile Device Management‘ platform like MobileIron, AirWatch or XenMobile (sorry, I forgot that Gartner now calls this ‘Enterprise Mobility Management‘).

So I hope that Adobe will pay attention to the developers of large enterprises, whose mobile apps must also be able to run in an MDM container, with all that entails in terms of limitations on how to access certain functionalities of the devices. PhoneGap is supposed to be compatible with MobileIron AppConnect, but has it been tested when an app is built with CF Builder? And what about the other MDM’s? Are there gotchas in this scenario? How about that on-device debugging? Etc. There’s still work to be done, that’s for sure! What will CF12 bring, eh?

PS. To all those who registered for the meeting but weren’t there I say: it pays to attend! There were nice prizes to win in the closing raffle, and a third of the attendees went home with a nice software package (well, at least I hope I get my package delivered soon ;-)

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We all turn to the Wikipedia from time to time, whenever we need a bit of authoritative info about a subject. You may not have noticed it, but the “look and feel” of Wikipedia essentially hasn’t changed in a decade. As an encyclopedia the Wikipedia focuses on its content, and the accessibility of that content in terms of search and navigation. “Content” is also the focus you’ll find in most Wiki software, and the basis of the Wikipedia is of course Wiki software called MediaWiki.

Ten years is a long time in the history of the web, and things have changed since the start of Wikipedia. Ten years ago, personal computers were the only way to access the web; today, an ever increasing number of users surfs the web on smartphones, tablets, PC’s and smart TV’s. Ten years ago, producing information for the Wikipedia was essential to get it up and running as an broad encyclopedia; these days, I’m guessing there are relatively much more consumers than writers of Wikipedia content. Ten years ago, there was only a web interface to interact with the Wikipedia; today there are apps on all kinds of platforms to access all or parts of its content in a specific form on all those different types of devices.

Thus it should not come as a surprise that someone decided to apply the user interface lessons of the last decade to the Wikipedia: meet WikiWand.

The Dutch entry for "Thee" ("Tea") in Google Chrome on a Mac

The Dutch entry for “Thee” (“Tea”) in Google Chrome on a Mac

There are two ways to use WikiWand: you can either access the Wikipedia through the WikiWand website (just use the search in the top right corner), or you can install the WikiWand browser plugin (for Chrome, Firefox or Safari) and set it up to be your default way of using the Wikipedia. I’m currently trying out the website, and I must admit: it looks good, on my Mac as well as on a smartphone. The smartphone version is perhaps a bit too visual, putting all the pictures before the text of the lemma. But the navigation menu on the left allows you to jump to wherever you want, so many pictures are only a problem if you access the web over a slow (and possibly expensive) network connection.

The Dutch entry for "Thee" ("Tea") in Google Chrome on an Android smartphone

The Dutch entry
for “Thee” (“Tea”)
in Google Chrome
on an Android smartphone

That’s all good, but a question remains. WikiWand is a commercial enterprise. So how will they be making money, without “ripping off” the Wikimedia Foundation? That remains to be seen: WikiWand says it wants to add “contextually-relevant ads for textbooks, articles and courses”, with 30 percent of its profits being donated to the Wikimedia Foundation – but only the future will tell whether they can stick to that “education only” ad policy…

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Over on the Wired website, Cade Metz almost goes crazy about  a new programming language with “a design and a pedigree that immediately set it apart“. The new language is called Hack, and according to the article, “Hack makes it easier to manage code and eliminate errors“…


Sigh. Come on, Mr. Metz. Hack may be a neat hack, in the eyes of PHP programmers. But Hack isn’t that special, it looks a lot like what PHP should have been from the start – actually, the lack of some of the features of Hack are what made me stay away from PHP for the last two decades. Just compare Hack to CFML (ColdFusion), for example – going from HTML and code in markup to a running page without compilation isn’t that new. And CFML runs on top of the Java Virtual Machine, so you can spice it up with whatever library or programming language you want, as long as it runs on the JVM.

Legacy code, that’s why Facebook needs Hack. Because it would be too expensive to rewrite everything in another programming language. Any other programming language, except PHP++…

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On the Sitepoint website, Craig Buckler points out how “Average Page Weights Increase by 32% in 2013“.

HTTP Archive -Trends - Total Transfer Size and Total Requests for the period 2012-12-15 tot 2013-12-15

Total Transfer Size and Total Requests
for the period 2012-12-15 to 2013-12-15
(Source: HTTP Archive – Trends)

Craig is not impressed with the numbers, and tries to find the reasons behind the increase. Bloated CMS templates and carelessness (sloppiness?) by the developers may well explain a large part of the phenomenon, but it’s hard to get a real explanation from averages only; more detailed research is required.

By the way, Craig: there’s a difference between an average and a median. When talking averages, there’s no way to tell how many samples are smaller or bigger than the average. So you can’t say: “Approximately half the web sites analyzed will be more obese“…

Going to the source of the data, i.e. the Trends page on the HTTP Archive site, there’s even worse news. If I interpret the “Doc Size & DOM Elements” statistic correctly, there is actually less content in a page than a year ago. So web sites are using more bits to tell less? I guess there’s another possible explanation: advertising may well be pushing out the page content.

Anyway you look at it, the statistics are sobering for us web developers. As Craig correctly notes: “Mobile connectivity and bandwidth continues to improve but it rarely jumps 30% in one year“. That means that web developers are not thinking “mobile”, despite the success of mobile hardware!

If you’re contemplating to (re-)build a web site, you had better make sure that your developers are aware of these statistics – your users might be disappointed if the developers don’t heed the lessons that can be learned from the numbers.

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It’s worth noting that JavaScript is making quite a few headlines these days, at least in the software developer community. No, it’s no exactly a new language, and I have been using it in many apps on a small scale since many years. jQuery has become an important tool in my daily work (and that of my close colleagues). But these days we’re not just talking about developments added to a webpage; the latest JavaScript talk is about much bigger things.

First (well, to me at least ;-) there was Node.js. In its own words, ”Node.js is a platform built on Chrome’s JavaScript runtime for easily building fast, scalable network applications” – on servers, for example. The recently announced blogging platform Ghost is written in JavaScript and based on Ghost. I just read that Groupon is also migrating (parts of) its main web app to Node.js. Not just ”because JavaScript is cool”; Node.js has a high performance reputation in serving web pages, as evidenced again in ”An example of how Node.js is faster than PHP”.

Then came Fargo. Fargo is an outliner from the King of Outliners, Dave Winer. You can try out the essential features of outlining in Fargo’s little brother, appropriately called ’Little Outliner’.

And now I have written the draft of this post in another interesting web application: StackEdit. A wide screen is advisable, but yes, it even works in Chrome on my Android tablet. Well done, guys.

What will be next?

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You too can experience what is was to surf the web in the early 1990’s. The article “World’s first cross-platform Web browser brought back to life” on Ars Technica explains how. Weird, huh? It shows how fast we humans adapt our lifestyle and expectations to new software – 1992 is not that long ago!

My blog as if in 1992

My blog as if in 1992

PS. I had to cheat a bit: the CSS for the “Line-mode browser” refers to a font called ‘cern’ that is unreadable on my Mac – so I turned it into ‘monospace’. Nor does the “Line-mode browser” like the comments in the WordPress Javascript: what you see is actually the third screen, not the start of the page as you might expect. 

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Ghost, the blogging platform mentioned yesterday, is well worth a look – literally. The page design as proposed out of the box is very much to my liking, and if the system proves to be as easy to use as promised, then it might well be a excellent choice for a beginning blogger (I have too much invested in this blog to contemplate moving again!).
And not only does Ghost look great, it also does away with the pseudo-rich-text-editor approach I don’t like at all. For those of you still not convinced: no, you don’t need dozens of fonts, font sizes and colors for textual content on the Web! What you need is a few ways to indicate structure in your text, and that does not require a bad MS Word clone. Ghost smartly chooses Markdown. That editor reminds me of the way text is edited in many Wikis – an excellent approach, focussing on content, not on presentation – presentation is the responsibility of the tool and its designer.

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